Police: Man thought to be carjack suspect who died in Sonoma County sheriff's custody was in his own car

A Petaluma man who died last week while being restrained by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy following a high-speed chase was not an armed car thief but the rightful owner of a vehicle he had reported stolen several days earlier, investigators revealed Monday.

David Glen Ward, 52, did not tell law enforcement officers who pulled him over that he had recovered the 2003 Honda Civic and was attempting to drive home, Santa Rosa police Lt. Dan Marincik said.

Ward’s family and the Santa Rosa Police Department, which is investigating his death, released new details about the chain of events that ended Wednesday when one deputy tased Ward and another placed him in a carotid restraint during a pre-dawn confrontation west of Petaluma.

The incident began at 5:41 a.m. Wednesday when an off-duty Santa Rosa police detective spotted Ward’s car east of Graton, near Guerneville and Frei roads, Santa Rosa police said in a news release. Ward had reported his car was stolen several days earlier in the unincorporated area of west Sonoma County. The suspect was reportedly armed with a gun, police said.

Sonoma County sheriff’s Deputy Jason Little, who has been with the department for more than 12 years, was the closest deputy and responded to the area. He caught up with the Honda Civic 10 minutes later, near Ragle Road in Sebastopol, and followed from a distance but couldn’t see inside the car or determine how many people were inside.

Little tried to stop the car near Bloomfield Road and Murray Road. Two Sebastopol police officers - Andrew Bauer, who has been with the department for more than six years, and Ethan Stockton, who has been with the department for more than two years - also responded, and were behind Little in their own patrol cars.

Ward initially stopped his car but then drove away, followed by the deputy and officers, triggering a seven-minute pursuit that reached speeds over 70 miles an hour.

Little attempted to stop the car by veering into it, which halted the car momentarily before Ward drove away again. The chase ended about 6:02 a.m. at Sutton Road, where Little and the two officers boxed in Ward’s car.?Ward refused orders to open the door to his car or keep his hands consistently in clear view, raising and then lowering them out of sight, police said.

Joined by Deputy Charlie Blount, the deputies and police officers attempted to pull Ward out through the driver’s window, but were unsuccessful. At one point, Ward bit both Little and Blount during the struggle, according to the news release.

The four officials used personal body weapons and struck Ward several times, according to the news release. Little also used his taser on Ward through the open window, but it was not effective.

Blount placed one of his arms around Ward’s neck to administer a carotid restraint through the window. The restraint, designed to block blood from flowing to the brain and knock a person unconscious, involves putting one’s arm around the subject’s neck in a V shape.

Stockton then broke the front passenger window of the car with his baton and opened the door. Ward was removed from the car through the door, and placed in handcuffs. He was unarmed.

Officials placed Ward on the ground next to his car. Several minutes later, around 6:10 a.m., they noticed that Ward wasn’t breathing. Deputy Nick Jax, who had arrived with three other deputies after Ward had been placed in handcuffs, performed CPR on Ward.

About 10 minutes later, medical personnel arrived and a defibrillator was used on Ward. An ambulance then transported him to Petaluma Valley Hospital, where he died at 7:17 a.m.

Authorities later discovered that Ward was not a car thief, but the legal owner of the Honda Civic. Ward did not, however, tell officers the car belonged to him and “appeared a little incoherent” when he was stopped, Marincik said.

The vehicle theft is still being investigated by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.

Ward’s family and neighbors said he had serious health conditions - including difficulty breathing and walking - and expressed concerns about the use of force.

About 20 years ago, Ward was hit by a drunken driver and nearly died, said his half-sister, Catherine Aguilera.

“He had to learn how to walk all over again,” said his mother, Ernie Ward, who lives in Sebastopol. “He was really disabled from that accident.”

Since then, Ward had difficulty walking. Within the last couple of years, he also developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and a heart condition, said his mother and half-sister. He used an oxygen tank, and often relied on his wheelchair, since his health made it more difficult for him to walk on his own.

“He was in poor health,” said Aguilera, who lives in Monroe, Washington. “He had a hard time breathing and it’s hard to imagine him having even the energy or force to aggressively avoid an arrest.”

While Marincik confirmed that Ward had some medical issues, he couldn’t confirm the nature or type of conditions. He said, however, that the medical issues will be part of the Santa Rosa Police Department’s investigation into Ward’s death.

An autopsy will be conducted Tuesday, but the cause of Ward’s death will remain pending until the conclusion of the police investigation, said Roger Fielding, Marin County’s chief deputy coroner.

A carotid restraint is permitted under the Sheriff’s Office use-of-force policy in certain cases, including when a deputy believes a person is violent or may harm themselves or others.

The deputy, however, must be trained in the tactic. If performed incorrectly, the restraint can turn into a chokehold that blocks the subject’s airways, which can be fatal.

Marincik said he didn’t have Blount’s training records and could not confirm if Blount was properly trained in the procedure. The Sheriff’s Office is conducting an internal investigation into the incident, which will determine if Blount acted within department policy.

Blount has been a deputy with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office for more than 19 years. Previously, he was an officer with the Santa Rosa Police Department for less than two years. Ward’s family and neighbors described him as a kind and passionate person, and a talented artist - a skill he picked up from his father.

He had lived in Bloomfield, a town northwest of Petaluma, since he was a child.

“He was warm and welcoming,” said Rose Morris, Ward’s neighbor who had known him for about 30 years. “Always very talkative and friendly - that’s how I remember him. That’s how he was.”

His mother said that Ward had a “rough life,” but had many friends in the community who looked out for him. Ward was very close to and lived with his father. When his father died four years ago, Ward had a difficult time, family members and neighbors said.

Aguilera said Ward’s mother called her Wednesday afternoon to tell her that Ward died. Ward would have turned 53 this coming Friday, Aguilera said.

“I was devastated to hear the news,” Aguilera said of her brother’s death. “Of course there’s the sorrow of losing someone, but the nature of the incident makes it even more disturbing.”

Staff Writers Randi Rossmann and Nashelly Chavez contributed to this report.

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